Profile: Abigail Seltzer
Abigail Seltzer was a participant or observer in the following events:
The interrogation and abuse of suspect Mohamed al-Khatani (sometimes spelled “al-Qahtani”—see February 11, 2008) at Guantanamo Bay begins. He is alleged to have tried to enter the US to participate in the 9/11 plot as the twentieth hijacker. He is classified as “Detainee 063.” He is subjected to 160 days of isolation in a pen flooded 24 hours a day with bright artificial light, that treatment starting well before harsher interrogation tactics begin six weeks later (see November 23, 2002). The tactics include:
He is interrogated for 48 of 54 days, for 18 to 20 hours at a stretch.
He is stripped naked and straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called “invasion of space by a female.”
He is forced to wear women’s underwear on his head and to put on a bra.
He is threatened by dogs, placed on a leash, and told that his mother was a whore.
He is stripped naked, shaved, and forced to bark like a dog.
He is forced to listen to American pop music at ear-splitting volume. He is subjected to a phony kidnapping (see Mid-2003).
He is forced to live in a cell deprived of heat
He is given large quantities of intravenous liquids and denied access to a toilet
He is deprived of sleep for days on end.
He is forcibly given enemas, and is hospitalized multiple time for hypothermia.
Impact - Towards the end of the extended interrogation session, Al-Khatani’s heart rate drops so precipitously (to 35 beats a minute) that he is placed under cardiac monitoring. Interrogators meticulously note his reactions to his treatment, and make the following notes at various times: “Detainee began to cry. Visibly shaken. Very emotional. Detainee cried. Disturbed. Detainee began to cry. Detainee bit the IV tube completely in two. Started moaning. Uncomfortable. Moaning. Began crying hard spontaneously. Crying and praying. Very agitated. Yelled. Agitated and violent. Detainee spat. Detainee proclaimed his innocence. Whining. Dizzy. Forgetting things. Angry. Upset. Yelled for Allah. Urinated on himself. Began to cry. Asked God for forgiveness. Cried. Cried. Became violent. Began to cry. Broke down and cried. Began to pray and openly cried. Cried out to Allah several times. Trembled uncontrollably.” In November 2002, an FBI agent describes al-Khatani’s condition, writing that he “was talking to non-existent people, reporting hearing voices, [and] crouching in a corner of the cell covered with a sheet for hours on end.” Al-Khatani confesses to an array of terrorist activities and then recants them; he begs his interrogators to be allowed to commit suicide. The last days of al-Khatani’s interrogation session is particularly intense, since interrogators know that their authorization to use harsh techniques may be rescinded at any time. They get no useful information from him. By the end of the last interrogation, an Army investigator observes that al-Khatani has “black coals for eyes.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Reaching the Threshold - In the summer of 2007, Dr. Abigail Seltzer, a psychiatrist who specializes in trauma victims, reviews the logs of al-Khatani’s interrogations. Seltzer notes that while torture is not a medical concept: “[O]ver the period of 54 days there is enough evidence of distress to indicate that it would be very surprising indeed if it had not reached the threshold of severe mental pain…. If you put 12 clinicians in a room and asked them about this interrogation log, you might get different views about the effect and long-term consequences of these interrogation techniques. But I doubt that any one of them would claim that this individual had not suffered severe mental distress at the time of his interrogation, and possibly also severe physical distress.” Everything that is done to al-Khatani is part of the repertoire of interrogation techniques approved by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002).
Fundamental Violation of Human Rights - In 2008, law professor Phillippe Sands will write: “Whatever he may have done, Mohammed al-Khatani was entitled to the protections afforded by international law, including Geneva and the torture convention. His interrogation violated those conventions. There can be no doubt that he was treated cruelly and degraded, that the standards of Common Article 3 were violated, and that his treatment amounts to a war crime. If he suffered the degree of severe mental distress prohibited by the torture convention, then his treatment crosses the line into outright torture. These acts resulted from a policy decision made right at the top, not simply from ground-level requests in Guantanamo, and they were supported by legal advice from the president’s own circle.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
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